Welcome to the Kentucky Native Plant and Wildlife Blog.

Welcome to the Kentucky Native Plant and Wildlife Blog.
The purpose of this blog is to provide information on using native plants in the landscape, issues related to invasive exotic plants, urban wildlife management, and wildlife damage management. It is my intention that this information will assist you in deciphering the multitude of information circulating around the web and condense in some meaningful method as it relates to Kentucky. In addition, I hope to highlight a native plant that can be used in the landscape.

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Plant of the Week: Northern Maidenhair Fern (Adiantum pedatum)

Elegant and graceful.  Enough said.  The Maidenhair ferns (of which Kentucky has two species, the northern and southern, a rare species in the state) are mostly a tropical group of plants and from looking at the northern maidenhair, it just gives that feeling of the tropics.  This deciduous fern is pretty easy to grow in the woodland garden if you have very well drained soil that is moist.  Think if you can grow hostas in a particular location, this fern will grow in the same habitat.  It definitely does not like clay. It can tolerate acidic or neutral soils and is therefore pretty adaptable to most garden settings. The small dainty fronds arise on black, wiry stems that form kind of a "C" looking plant that can get up to 20" tall.  It can be divided before the new fronds arise from the ground by dividing the rhizomes. This species is relatively pest free.  For those with deer problems, this plant is also pretty resistant to deer browsing.  Good companion plants might be the large yellow lady slipper orchid, wild geranium, and Virginia bluebells.  If you want a successional woodland garden, you could plant trout lilies, hepatica, or bloodroot in the same location because they will flower before the rusty, red fiddleheads of this fern come up.  

Thursday, March 22, 2012

The Hummers are Back in Town: Time to get the feeders up and running!

Young male bird

Getting nectar from trumpet creeper

Male at a feeder

A hummingbird nest

Normally, the ruby-throated hummingbird arrives in Kentucky in mid-April at the peak of the spring wildflower season.  This year, with its exceptional warmth, has been interesting to say the least.  The latest information shows that the first hummingbirds arrived back in Kentucky on March 19 and 20, primarily in the far western part of the state.  However, the maps also show that the birds have arrived in Canada. The other thing you will notice from the maps is a general lack of sightings from Central Kentucky.  This is because a few years ago we had a major storm event during migration and many birds were blown off course to the west and our populations have not yet rebounded.  Finally you can see on the map how there are more sightings from western Kentucky into Missouri and Illinois.  So, now is the time to get the feeder out of the closet, get it cleaned and disinfected, and get it outside and ready for use.  Remember, hummingbirds are highly territorial and so if you get a male defending a particular feeder, set up another feeder at least 15' from the first one and out of view, which may help you attract more birds to your yard.  One of the really interesting things about ruby-throated hummingbirds is that they arrive back here in the nesting grounds from the tropics just as their nectar sources come into flower.  So if you are a gardener, try putting out some early hummingbird attracting flowers like columbine, fire pink, phlox (numerous early spring species), and Carolina wild pink (see an earlier posting for this plant, Silene carolinianum).  If you are more inclined to use shrubs try our native azaleas and rhododendrons (See an earlier post for these as well), dwarf red buckeye, or the climbing vine, trumpet honeysuckle.  Later spring flowering species to consider are the beard tongues, Indian pink (Spigelia marilandica), and some additional phlox species.  Then summer hits and you get all these wonderful nectar plants like trumpet creeper, royal catchfly, cardinal flower, etc.  When planning to attract hummingbirds remember the birds do not live on sugar water alone, they also need protein (for nesting, egg laying, etc.) and so you will need flowers that attract gnats and other small insects.  For more information on attracting hummingbirds to the yard you can download the following publication from the University of Kentucky:

Monday, March 19, 2012

Plant of the week: Shooting Star (Dodecatheon meadia)

This tried and true member of the primrose family should be a staple in any woodland wildflower garden, or any native plant garden because it can tolerate full sun.  My first reaction to seeing this species in the wild was one of fascination because I found it growing in wet, seepy, calcareous, forest and then I also found it in the middle of an extremely dry, limestone glade in western Kentucky.  What an adaptable plant and to get the best effect in the garden, you must plant this species en masse because the individual flowers are small (maybe an inch in length) but the entire group looks like "shooting stars" in the evening sky, hence the common name because each individual flower has five petals that are reflexed or swept-back with yellow stamens that converge to give the appearance of a shooting star falling to earth.  Other names given to this plant include Pride of Ohio or Prairie Pointers. While the most common color form is white, you can find those that are pink to purple in coloration.  The entire plant will grow up to 18" tall from a basal rosette of leaves that disappear by June in the garden leaving only the stalk and seed head.  Numerous seeds are produced and in nature the wind typically blows the seed head and the tiny, black seeds are blown out of the capsule.  Over time they can form large colonies but the best way to get a colony going in the garden is to divide the roots by washing those of a mature plant and then looking for black dots (dormant buds) where the long white roots meet the basal leaves and then cutting those and starting a new plant.  Growing from seed isn't that difficult although it takes plants three years to produce flowers and the tiny seedlings are very susceptible to damping off.  The seeds should be stored in a refrigerator for 3 to 4 months prior to propagation.  This plant usually flowers in mid to late-April and because it does go dormant, you will need to interplant with something else or you will have a big brown dirt patch in the garden.  I recommend northern maidenhair fern, which will come up around the same time to slightly later in the woodland garden.  In Kentucky we have another species, French's shooting star, that is considered rare and likes acidic sandstone soils compared to the neutral to basic soils of regular shooting star.  There is one cultivar on the market, 'Goliath' which espouses to have larger individual flowers.  The name for this species originated with Pliny the Elder 23 - 79 AD because it was believed to be under the care of twelve Gods (Dodeca means 12 and theos means God).  For those who know nothing about Pliny, he wrote the first natural history encyclopedia, Naturalis historia, a standard by which all future encyclopedia were compared.
A colony of French's Shooting Star growing under a sandstone outcrop in western Kentucky.

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Canada Geese Versus the Humans: Who Will Win?

One of my fondest memories growing up in South Dakota was the semi-annual migration of snow geese and listening to the sounds of "goose music" for a month or so.  March was typically the spring migration period and I find myself thinking of those times when a few Canada geese fly by the house in the morning.  There is nothing like watching several thousand geese explode into the air and listening to the chattering of all those geese.  While snow geese were the most common species found in the Great Plains back then, the Canada goose (not Canadian - they don't own them) was quite uncommon and to the hunting community viewed this species as the "trophy" bird worth pursuing.  By this time, a small remnant population of the Giant subspecies (Branta canadensis maxima) had been developed from breeding stock at a game farm in Owatonna, MN and restoration efforts began in a variety of states, including South Dakota. The captive propagation program began to restore this, the largest of all the 7 subspecies of Canada goose, to South Dakota and this is one of those great American Conservation Success stories in that we probably have more of this subspecies of Canada goose now than at any time in our history. And so when I worked for the South Dakota Game Fish and Parks Department, one summer I had the great opportunity to capture and work on this project for a weekend.  During the summer the birds molt (lose their flight feathers) and the young are flightless and during this time we would conduct a goose rodeo whereby the birds were driven by boat onto the shore into waiting nets where we would age, sex, and band them and then release them unharmed. It was great fun.  So what does that have to do with Canada geese in Kentucky?  Not much I guess except the part of there being 7 subspecies, with C. canadensis maxima being the largest and only truly native to the upper Great Plains and other mid-western States.  For you see, the restoration programs in that part of the world were  SOOOOO successful that state agencies had birds to spare and hence the trading began and these birds were shipped to many different states to begin their own restoration programs or to introduce the birds into new environments. Kentucky, like many other states, was a new environment and the geese have done exceptionally well, in fact, some would say, too good as there are now so many "resident" Giant Canada geese that they often come into conflict with humans.  For you see, the newcomers like many alien species that are introduced into new habitats, found they like habitats made by humans, parks, golf courses, schools, and other areas where there is thick, luscious food (green grass that has been fertilized) and water (for roosting, loafing, resting, etc.) and there really weren't any predators and so life was and is good for the goose.  So what's the rub?  For those who have been bitten (and yes I have been and it really doesn't feel nice especially when you have a bird pinned between your legs and his/her head slips out and they wake up and try to escape,  biting the closest piece of human flesh they can find and leaving a nice welt), or for those who have to clean up their "droppings", or those who have been chased while approaching a nest or female with young, the birds can be quite a nuisance.  Until recently the options for managing urban nuisance geese was troublesome, but today it is much more manageable and the reason this article arrives in mid-March is that goose nesting season is rapidly approaching and now is the time to consider your management options.  There are a number of options for reducing human-goose conflicts that range from putting up bright colored heavy monofilament fishing line in a square pattern over the pond, to placing shrubs and trees around ponds to deter landing or taking off, to not heavily fertilizing and mowing turf, to using a repellant (with the active ingredient methyl anthranilate a natural byproduct of grape extract), to getting a well-trained border collie dog, to the final option, getting a depredation permit to oil, shake, or puncture eggs and/or replace the eggs with dummy eggs.  This permit is available free and can be obtained by going to the following web site:

The publication contains information on how to obtain the permit, what records must be kept, and other frequently asked questions.  You can only destroy the eggs from March 1 through June 30.  Why does destroying eggs work?  Because the birds will continue to site on un-hatched eggs and will not attempt to renest, which they would do if the nest or eggs were destroyed (like by a predator).  While all forms of egg destruction work, I usually recommend oiling because it is quicker (nothing worse than an upset momma goose protecting the nest) and easier to accomplish compared to the other methods.  This is usually a two person job, one to keep momma away and another to oil the eggs.  Once the dirty deed has been done, do not remove the eggs or when you go back to check on them, do not disturb them as they may contain gases and the eggs will "explode" and you do not want to smell like rotten eggs because well, I probably don't need to explain that one.  More information on managing urban Canada goose problems can be obtained by consulting the following publications:

So who will win, I am not sure but I would not bet against the geese.

Monday, March 12, 2012

Plant of the Week: White-leaf Leather Flower (Clematis glaucophylla)

Looking for a well-behaved 12 - 15' vine with bluish-green foliage and striking pink to red flowers that hummingbirds adore?  Look no further than the white-leaf leather flower, a rare southeastern species that is now in production and offered by a couple of nurseries.  This is one of those delicate vines that can be used along a fence or trellis or climbing in a short tree or shrub.  If pruned properly, this wonderfully showy plant will flower all summer long and you have the added bonus of the feathery seed pods that contrast nicely with the foliage and flowers. WOW! This plant does best with more sun than shade and if it is kept moist, will flower most prolifically in the full sun.  The long, linear flower superficially resembles C. texensis although it is not nearly as deep red and the underside of the tough, leathery flowers is light yellow in color.  Flowers appear on new growth only so you will want to cut this back every spring to a couple of buds and if you want to keep it flowering during the summer, continuing pruning the old flowers.  This species would be an excellent candidate for the front porch climbing up the supports or railing.  It needs to be kept moist during the entire growing season and it can grow in either neutral or somewhat acidic soils. As with most clematis, do not expect much the first growing season as it probably will not flower at all.  It might have a few flowers in year two and by year three it should have plenty of flowers and be well established.  Also, like most clematis, this species does not like to be moved once planted, so pick your location carefully.  This species is available in the trade from Sunlight Gardens, and Brushwood nursery.  Nurseries typically sell out of these quickly so now is the time to order for planting this spring.

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

The Martians (oops Martins) are Back! Attracting Purple Martins to the Landscape

The first adult scout purple martins have arrived in western Kentucky and now is the time to think about getting that Martin nesting operation shifted into high gear.  While you still have some time to get a new house up and running, the only time you should open your nesting box early is if you see birds using a neighbors house that is within 1 mile of your property.  Generally speaking you have about 4 - 5 weeks to get your house up and running after the first adult scouts arrive because the birds that will select a new housing location are sub-adult (last year's fledglings that have not yet nested) birds.  Older or mature martins rarely, if ever, can be lured into moving to a new location because they have a strong nest site fidelity, which means nothing more than coming back to the same place they have nested in the past.  In Martin culture, the oldest birds arrive first and the youngest arrive last and it occurs over a several month period with new birds arriving daily, but you should be prepared because if you want to attract a new colony of martins (and it can be difficult) now is the time to get things ready.  Why is it so difficult to attract a new colony?  The biggest and most common reason is that houses are placed in the yard incorrectly.  These aerial acrobats can't tolerate trees that are as tall as the housing unit located  within 40' and to be on the safe side it should be 60' from the housing unit.  This spacing should be in three directions and as for the fourth direction, it should be from 40 to 120' from your house or building.  It appears that martins have "learned" that housing units in close proximity to human habituation reduces predation (the likes of raccoons, snakes, hawks, owls, and crows) and the birds have a better chance of fledging more young. If you aren't getting martins nesting, try moving the housing unit closer to your home.  Reason number three as to why folks don't get nesting martins is that the unit is not painted white.  Why white?  Well because it reflects the sun better and the birds don't experience as much heat stress, it creates a contrast with the dark entrance hole making it more enticing, and finally, male birds seem to prefer it for courtship.  Another reason you don't attract martins is opening the unit too early and it gets invaded by house sparrows, finches, starlings, and other nest site competitors.  If this happens you might never get martins to nest in that unit.  This doesn't mean you shouldn't open the house before the birds arrive because if you wait until you actually see birds, it is too late.  So open at least a few holes on each side prior to birds arriving and maintain vigilance to keep the other species out. For established colonies you can wait until you see birds returning because of their strong nest site fidelity.  If you have vines, shrubs, or bushes growing up the pole, remove them as the birds rarely if ever nest where vines, and other plants crawl up the pole because the birds instinctively know it increases the chances of predation.  In the same vein, do not put any guide wires or have the house located near ANY wires that are close enough for a predator to access the house and this means at least 10' which is about how far a squirrel can jump.  Finally make sure the housing unit has the correct dimensions and while it may sound silly, there are varying recommendations as to what housing should look like.  The most important feature of any housing unit is that the size should be no smaller than 6" x 6" although 7" x 12" is preferred, the entrance hole should be 1" above the floor, and the size of the hole should be 2 to 2 1/4." Lastly, the housing unit should be secured to a pole that can be raised and lowered by either a telescopic or pulley system so that pest birds can be evicted, units can be cleaned and closed/opened, and you can check on the baby birds to keep records of what is going on.  Good luck in attracting these beautiful birds.

Monday, March 5, 2012

Plant of the Week: Hollow Stemmed Joe-Pye-Weed (Eupatorium fistulosum)

Tiger and pipevine swallowtail on hollow stemmed Joe-pye-weed
There are four native Joe-pye-weed species in Kentucky.  Two are rare and two are common.  The rare ones include E. maculatum (spotted) and E. steelei (Steel's) and are known from only the true mountains in southeastern Kentucky. The other two species, E. purpureum (purple node) and hollow-stemmed (E. fistulosum) are both common and occur statewide.  The way to tell the two common species apart isn't that difficult because one has a hollow stem and occurs in wet meadows, woods, and along streams and the other has a dark purple stem at the internodes and occurs in dry to moist woods.  There is no question the best species of the group for butterflies is hollow stemmed and is probably the best for the garden, although the most difficult to find in the nursery trade.  Lots of folks carry spotted (which has more of a flat top compared to the convex form of a flower head) but far fewer carry hollow stemmed. The reason that spotted, particularly "Gateway", is more popular is that it only grows to 4 to 5' tall. I think the reason hollow stemmed isn't as popular is that it can grow to 10-12' given the right growing conditions and spreads via underground rhizomes.  Therefore, its use in the garden is in the back of a perennial bed or to use as a screen. If you want to make it more compact, cut the stems in June although this will typically lead to flowering a little later than normal.  To ensure long-term viability, it is probably necessary to thin or divide the plants on a regular basis (it does root easily from division or even stem cuttings).  This is one of the great swallowtail butterfly attracting plants because the flowers appear at the time when the last brood of this butterfly group is hatching and it has numerous small flowers that are packed with nectar.  The best growing conditions for hollow stemmed is moist to wet although it will do fine in average garden soil.  Spotted is far more forgiving and can be grown in any fertile, average garden soil.  To ensure maximum nectar production be sure to grow this species in full sun.  The other nice attributes of the Joe-pye-weeds are there lance-shaped leaves that occur in whorls and the seed heads that provide winter interest.  Supposedly this plant gets its name from a Native American medicine man named Jopi who lived in the northeast around the time of the American revolution.  It is said he sold various herbal remedies and used this species to treat typhoid fever.  This species occurs pretty much throughout the eastern United States and typically flowers in September.  Try growing this with some boltonia and goldenrod in the foreground.